Preventing Colorectal Cancer Together

Adult father and son taking a selfie
Your health care is a partnership between you and your medical team. While your medical team will recommend two main tools to help prevent colon cancer, only you can use those tools effectively.

Two Tools to Help Prevent Colon Cancer

Lifestyle: Whatever your age, you will be advised to maintain a healthy weight; eat more foods that are healthy for your colon and avoid those that can cause colon and rectum inflammation; drink alcohol only occasionally and in small amounts; exercise regularly; and avoid smoking entirely.

Screening: If you are age 50 or older or have a family history of colon or rectum cancer, you will be advised to have one of several screening tests for colorectal cancer. Most colon and rectum cancers are thought to begin with a benign tissue growth called a polyp. A screening test, such as a colonoscopy, can locate and remove pre-cancerous tissue polyp growth from the colon or rectum before it turns into cancer. This can be lifesaving!

Your primary care doctor or your gastroenterologist may recommend one of the following screening tests to prevent colon or rectum cancer, or to find it at its earliest stage.

  • Stool test for blood, either guaiac or fecal immunochemical test (FIT): once yearly
  • Stool fecal immunochemical DNA test: once every 1-3 years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: every 5 years (or every 10 years with FIT test)
  • Colonoscopy: every 10 years unless polyps are found, or you have a family or personal history of colon cancer, rectal cancer, or a cancer risk gene mutation
  • CT colonoscopy, also called virtual colonoscopy: every 5 years

Young People and Colon Cancer: An Alarming Trend

For many years, colon and rectal cancer were thought of as cancers of older people. This is no longer true. Over the past decade, we have seen an alarming rise in colorectal cancers in people under age 40, and even younger.

Genetics vs. Lifestyle

While it is well known that certain inherited genetic mutations lead to early colon, rectal, and other cancers, that does not explain the disturbing increase in young colorectal cancers.

The incidence of inherited genetic conditions in the population is not increasing. Instead, lifestyle and dietary habits are changing. More people are overweight, and more people eat diets that significantly increase inflammation in the colon, such as fried and greasy foods. These foods subsequently increase the risk of colon cancer.

What Medical Science Knows…and You Should Know

Medical science and policy have not yet determined whether the general population (those without family history) colon cancer screening should start at an age earlier than 50.

What medical science does know—and what every person and every family should know--are the following:

  • Everyone is at risk for colon and rectal cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death among women and men combined. Some people are at significantly higher risk because they have family members who have had colon cancer, rectal cancer, uterine (endometrial) or other cancer. Be sure to talk about this with your family and your doctor.
  • Healthy diet with lots of leafy vegetables and legumes (beans) decrease the chance of getting colon or rectal cancer.
  • Some foods, such as red meat and fried foods, increase the chance getting colon or rectal cancer.
  • Exercise and a healthy body weight decrease the chance of getting colon or rectal cancer.
  • Obesity increases the chance getting colon or rectal cancer.
  • A colon cancer screening test, stool test, colonoscopy of virtual colonoscopy, can prevent colon cancer and can save your life

While we focus on colorectal cancer during March, Colon Cancer Awareness Month, every day of the year should be colon and rectum health and cancer prevention day.

For more information or an appointment for a colon cancer screening test, please call us at 888-544-4636.

author name

Randall A. Oyer, MD

Randall A. Oyer, MD, is medical director of the Cancer and Cancer Risk Evaluation programs at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute and a physician with LG Health Physicians LG Health Physicians.

Education: Medical School–Georgetown University School of Medicine; Residency and fellowship–Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Call: 717-544-9400

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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